The Queen's Lover: Book summary and reviews of The Queen's Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray

The Queen's Lover

A Novel

by Francine du Plessix Gray

The Queen's Lover
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2012
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

Historical fiction of the highest order, The Queen’s Lover reveals the untold love affair between Swedish aristocrat Count Axel Von Fersen and Marie Antoinette.

The Queen's Lover begins at a masquerade ball in Paris in 1774, when the dashing Swedish nobleman Count Axel Von Fersen first meets the mesmerizing nineteen-year old Dauphine Marie Antoinette, wife of the shy, reclusive prince who will soon become Louis XVI. This electric encounter launches a life-long romance that will span the course of the French Revolution.

The affair begins in friendship, however, and Fersen quickly becomes a devoted companion to the entire royal family. As he roams through the halls of Versailles and visits the private haven of Petit Trianon, Fersen discovers the deepest secrets of the court, even learning about the startling erotic details of Marie-Antoinette's marriage to Louis XVI. But the events of the American Revolution tear Fersen away. Moved by the colonists’ fight for freedom, he is one of the very first to enlist in the French contingent of troops that will fight for America's independence.

When he returns, he finds France on the brink of disintegration. After the Revolution of 1789 the royal family is moved from Versailles to the Tuileries. Fersen devises an escape for the family and their young children - Marie-Thérèse and the Dauphin Louis-Charles - whom many suspect to be Fersen's son. The failed evasion attempt eventually leads to a grueling imprisonment, and the family spends its excruciating final days in captivity before the King and Queen face the guillotine.

Grieving his lost love after he returns to his native Stockholm, Fersen begins to sense the effects of the French Revolution in his own homeland. Royalists are now targets of the people's ire, and the carefree, sensuous world of his youth is fast vanishing. Fersen, who has been named Grand Marshal of Sweden, is incapable of realizing that centuries of tradition have disappeared, and he pays dearly for his naïveté, losing his life at the hands of a savage mob that views him as a pivotal member of the aristocracy.

Scion of Sweden’s most esteemed nobility, Fersen came to be seen as an enemy of the homeland he loved. His fate is symbolic of the violent speed with which the events of the 18th century transformed European culture.

Expertly researched and deeply imagined, The Queen’s Lover offers a fresh vision of of the French Revolution and of the French royal family, as told through the love story that was at its center.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Fersen… sees through the queen's reputation for emptiness and the king's for dullness to give us a balanced view of what transpired within the mirrored halls of Versailles. By also making us privy to all his political escapades back in his native Sweden, the story broadens into a wider picture of European monarchy in transition." - Booklist

"Fans of history - both true and fictional - will revel in du Plessix Gray's vivid evocation of turbulent times, though readers accustomed to in-the-moment action may lament the narrative remove of the faux memoir." - Publishers Weekly

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Reader Reviews

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Linda P. (Rockport, ME)

The Queen's Lover
As I read and very much enjoyed the story of Marie Antoinette’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen, I kept wanting to label the genre of the book as Creative or Narrative Non-Fiction, rather than Historical Fiction. The author has done exhaustive research to bring to life the details of the French Revolution, the tragedy of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, the role von Fersen played in their lives, and his own ironic fate in Sweden where a similar revolution took place.

The Queen’s Lover is very well written and paints a detailed picture of events that have been shoddily addressed by other authors. I came away with a much better understanding of the political climate surrounding the French Revolution. My only critique of the novel is that the author seems to do more “telling” than “showing”, but that by no means detracted from the brilliant portrayal as seen through the point of view of Axel von Fersen and his sister, Sophie. Highly recommended for lovers of late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century European history.

Patricia S. (New Canaan, CT)

A diary of loves and revolutions
I hadn't expected to read a book so rich in history - spanning the American, French and Swedish revolutions - written in diary form by Axel von Fersen and his sister Sophie. The author has brought history to life as she weaves the story of Axel falling in love with the young Marie Antoinette, his 'Toinette, a love which propelled him throughout life as he sought to make her life easier and to save her from the guillotine. Despite other loves along the way, Axel remains true to 'Toinette and the royal family, even at the expense of his own family in Sweden. Francine Du Plessix Gray has written a book which will appeal to many types of readers and has a story that won't leave you for a while. If only she'd written this years earlier, I would have loved my European history classes more and understood the complexities of social history in those times.

Karin D. (Glendale, AZ)

Surprising
I really enjoyed this book. My curiosity about Axel had been piqued when I saw the film with Tyrone Power playing Axel...it left a lot to the imagination and this book fills in the gaps. The author portrays the court with great detail and makes her characters live. I heartily recommend this to all who enjoy Historical Fiction with a love story as a bonus.

Kimberly H. (Stamford, CT)

French Historical fiction
The Queens Lover is exhaustively researched and a great intro to the French Revolution if you don't have a lot of knowledge of this fascinating period. I enjoyed the book very much but I felt it lost a bit of steam mid way through. A great read, very interesting story.

Donna T. (Tacoma, WA)

A lover's view
This is not a book for some one who isn't interested in history or who likes a book with only words that are familiar. In this day, when most books are written at what I consider a middle-school level, several times, I had to stop and look up the meaning of words used by the author. It was also not an "easy" read because of the use of foreign names, titles and other words. Some of this may be attributed to the fact that in many places she used original quotes from letters, diaries, etc. as part of her text. Those personal issues aside, I found it very well written and quite engaging and by the end, I had a great affection for the characters. The story telling from both the view point of Count Axel von Fersen and his sister Sophie, allowed for quite a different (and intimate) view of the French Monarchy before and during the French Revolution. The story felt well researched while the writing felt done with true affection for the historical individuals described.

Mary Lou F. (Naples, FL)

Learning History
I enjoyed this book as I had very little knowledge of Scottish history and French history. Good historical book with plenty of intrigue.

...11 more reader reviews

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Francine du Plessix Gray has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker and is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Simone Weil, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. She is most recently the author of the memoir Them: A Memoir of Parents. She lives in Connecticut.

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